Is fasting really vital in one’s Christian relationship with God? Is fasting a part of a believer’s Christian life? What is the importance of fasting? How did fasting start in the Scripture? There are probably more questions than there are answers.
A funny story was told about a Korean believer who once asked a Christian passenger inside a bus whether or not he prays.
His response was a very quick “Yes!”
“Good Christian!” says the Korean believer.
The polite Korean Christian once more asked, “Do you fast?”
The believer was almost hesitant to tell him the truth, but he told him anyway, saying, “No, I don’t.”
“Bad Christian!” says the Korean.
Many believers today in every continent practice a number of spiritual disciplines like prayer, giving, reading the Bible, but fasting. Probably because it is truly difficult to resist food. This is very true for many Roman citizens whose past time was eating. In fact, there was an assumption that one of the contributing factors for the decline of the Roman Empire was gluttony.
It is no wonder Paul emphasizes, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
Even Jesus had to remind His listeners in the Roman era that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
Once we learn to deny fleshly desires then submission to the will of God ensues. This abstaining from food for a time will surely make one sensitive to the direction of the Spirit. This will also help the believer to clearly hear the voice of the Spirit in their personal moment of devotion.
This practice of fasting began in the early days of the Old Testament before the fall of Jerusalem.
During the annual Day of Atonement there was only one fast that was commanded (See Lev. 16:29).
But after the downfall of Jerusalem, additional fasting days were instituted on certain specific days and months (See Zech. 7:3, 5, 8:19).
The Hebrew word for “fast” is tsom, which means self-denial. The same meaning also refers to the Greek word nesteia.
Majority of the biblical scholars believed that this specific form of discipline began with dissatisfaction from eating and food constraints. There are many reasons for fasting in the Old Testament.
A number of Old Testament characters showed discontentment with food because of their situation.
This happened to Hannah being distressed about her infertility that she “wept and would not eat” (1 Sam. 1:7). Jonathan did not eat anything because of an incident between him and his father King Saul (See 1 Sam. 20:34). Even Ahab would not touch any food until he owns Naboth’s vineyard (See 1 Kings 21:4).
There are some leaders in Israel who declared fasting on a national scale during imminent wars (See Judg. 20:26; 2 Chron. 20:3) or pestilence (See Joel 1:13).
And as form of appeasement just like David’s pleading with God for his son’s life (See 2 Sam. 12:15-23)
Eventually, this practice of fasting became connected with an appearance of grief. David expresses his grief through fasting when Abner died (See 2 Sam. 3:35). The Psalmist also conveys his sorrow about the unfortunate condition of his enemies (See Psa. 35:13). It shows a personal “affliction” of one’s soul and body as well (See Isa. 58:3-5)
In the New Testament, Jesus fasted for forty days before He formally began His public ministry (See Matt. 1:12-13). If the Israelites’ fasting were bound by regular fixed dates, the believers in the New Testament were not. Some disciples were told that demons were forced to leave by prayer and fasting (See Matt. 17:21, KJV).
The important thing that needs to be remembered by Christ’s followers is the attitude of the heart (See Matt. 6:16-18). This spiritual discipline became a part of the Christian church in some of their activities (See Acts 13:1-3)
The miracles and outcome wrought by fasting are not only limited to Jehoshaphat’s experiences of victory. But evident in the midst of crises on a national scale, even in modern times.
Prayer, coupled with fasting, has impressive results even during World War II in the 1940s. This was the time when Sir Winston Churchill took the reign of leadership from Neville Chamberlain in the Battle of Dunkirk between the Allies against Nazi Germany.
It was such a challenging task that an estimate of 400,000-500,000 British-French troops were trapped in the English Channel. More than 300,000 were miraculously rescued by various boats when churches in Britain called for a day of prayer and fasting to be held on Sunday, May 26, for their family and loved ones.
We have also heard of stories of personal breakthroughs, like healing from dreadful diseases, and restoration of broken relationships.
A fasting without prayer and reading of God’s word is just plain physical weight loss. But fasting with prayer and meditation of God’s word will move not just the physical reality but the spiritual realm as well.
The discipline of fasting does not force God to move based on what believers dictate. But it makes us humbly submit to the will of God in our lives as we deny the dictates of our flesh.
It is deepening ones intimate relationship with God, giving sensitive insight to the believer of the Holy Spirit’s leading, aside from spiritual breakthroughs so we could do His will in our personal life, our family, our campuses, our workplace, and our nation.
Truly, prayer coupled with fasting, is a powerful spiritual discipline that will surely unlock a great number of spiritual doors in the life of a Christian believer as we continue to honor God and make disciples.
Andrew Murray once said,
“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”